What is there not to say about Venice? After meandering a few hours away amongst the tight streets and crooked bridges, following the famous arrows that lead – or to the train station, or to Rialto – it dawned upon me. The silence. The total absence of traffic. The nothingness – except the soft lap lap of the water against the balustrades – the sound of a city without the constant background drone of motors, wheels and horns. You can’t even really ride a bike in Venice; the only ‘wheeled’ people are 6 year olds on their way to school on scooters. It is wonderful, liberating, and maybe one of the reasons why you can spend two hours and then wonder, in a sort of dazed state, when it was that you arrived.
Most guide books recommend getting lost in Venice, but I was there with photographer Susan Wright to track down the places where the Venetians eat, and find out more about the local gastronomic tradition, so the map I needed. Thankfully being out of season there weren’t too many people on the streets as I bumbled down narrow calle and under portegos with my iPhone, searching for the elusive numbers (which in Venice are tied to the district, not the street). We were also lucky because we had been pointed in various directions by DOC Venetians Alberto Toso Fei and Shaul Bassi, and adopted Venetian Sally Spector, whose intricately illustrated Venice & Food is a gorgeous journey through Venetian culinary tradition.
The Venetian table is a reflection of a city that was a melting pot right from the beginning. The Baccalà Mantecato that gets spread onto thin crostini and dolloped onto slices of polenta as part of the Ombre e Cicchetti ritual, is made of dried cod from the North Sea, brought back by Venetian ships, the cod going on to become an Italian staple because it was an inexpensive fish for those days when the church obliged citizens to eat magro. From the East came dried fruits, nuts and spices, along with the Arabic curves and byzantine decorativeness, and those arched windows. From the mainland came corn in many guises; the softest white through to deep golden polenta and corn meal for biscuits and sweet things.
Ombre e Cicchetti; roughly translated as a shadow of wine and small bites, is the most fun you will have eating in Venice. It has a thoroughly practical motive; a quick cheap way of eating for local workers, washing down the snacks with a small warming (Venice is cold in Winter) glass of wine. Small places called Bacari all over the city have trays of fried meatballs, salamis and cured meats, panini and crostini, laid out from the early morning. Venetians stop for Ombre e Cicchetti day and night, on the way home from work or on the way out somewhere, or even as a meal out in itself. It is all very convivial.
To read the article for Thomas Cook’s Travel magazine click here.
Below are a couple of Venetian favorites:
BACARI, the part bar part simple osteria where Ombre e Cicchetti are served
Al Arco, San Polo 436 Rialto
Al Mercà (Campo Bella Vienna, San Polo 213, +39 346 834 0660),
Bancogiro (Campo San Giacametto, San Polo 122, +39 041 523 2061, osteriabancogiro.it)
The creamiest Baccalà Mantecato atop slices of squid ink polenta – Bancogiro pushes creative boundaries.
Cantinone da Schiavi, Fondamenta Nani, 992, 30123 Dorsoduro
Cantinone is on a small canal in the patrician Dorsoduro district, close to the Academy and the University. It is also an enoteca so is FULL of wine.
Da Bepi, Cannaregio, 4550 Campo SS Apostoli
Osteria Da Alberto, Cannaregio 5401. Calle Giacinto Gallina
Selection of cicchetti, simple meals, great atmosphere and extensive wine list.
LUNCH AT MURANO
Acqua Stanca. Fondamenta Manin 48, +39 041 319 5125, acquastanca.it)
A really lovely trattoria along the main canal on the island of Murano. The owners Caterina and Giovanna combine family recipes with their own style in this warm space.